Gov. Ron DeSantis has become a national punching bag over his delayed decision to issue a statewide stay-at-home order and his refusal to shut down all beaches in the state.
His thought process weighed the need to take public health preventative measures while also maintaining as much of Florida’s economy as possible.
While that juggling act was decried as putting economy over safety, mostly by Democrats, his strategy shows signs of paying off.
As predicted a few weeks ago, DeSantis may indeed be pulling off his inside straight. Yet even as he appears to have beat the odds, public opinion has been largely against the Governor.
Images of crowded beaches during Spring Break plagued his administration for weeks and led to what turns out to be “the sky is falling” claims that the raucous gatherings packed with un-phased partiers would lead to widespread outbreaks of the virus.
While one of the busiest Spring Break hot spots, Miami, has seen the state’s worst outbreak, statewide data does not support that hypothesis.
And more broadly, the state is already seeing a flattening curve. As The Capitolist noted, the number of new reported cases over an eight-day period this month showed no signs of significant increases. Hospitalizations painted a slightly less optimistic picture, but even those are slowing down, not speeding up.
Further, the expected death toll in Florida has been revised downward, from a previous estimate of 240 Floridians a day to just 112 with the total number of expected deaths in the state accounting, ultimately, for 4,000 instead of the previously estimated 6,770.
The state also ranks third in the nation for testing, which gives officials access to greater data to better allocate resources and reduce the spread and manage risk.
So why then, is DeSantis still viewed as the Governor who got it all wrong?
In a rundown of polling data compiled by FiveThirtyEight on 15 governors, DeSantis was the only one not to show double-digit increases in approval ratings. Worse, he posted a seven point decline. The only viable answer to that question seems to be that his communication strategy is not working.
When those beach images emerged, some of the Governor’s supporters were quick to point out that national media outlets were, in many cases, showing images that were several days old and painting a picture of a situation that was fleeting and quickly remedied. DeSantis’ office did not push back on the negative press as aggressively.
And his office has made a series of blunders that give Floridians, and the media, pause over his transparency.
Take for example a Miami Herald request for a list of which Florida nursing homes or other elder care facilities had reported cases of the new coronavirus. DeSantis’ office didn’t deliver, leaving the paper to threaten to sue. The response was more shadow games, with DeSantis’ general counsel reportedly pressuring the Herald’s legal team to drop the suit.
Reporters have been blocked from press briefings. The Florida Department of Health’s public tracking of coronavirus data has been inconsistent and some times inaccurate.
Not to mention DeSantis’ bizarre decision to don just one glove during a recent briefing, drawing ridicule from the internet at large questioning whether he understood how to properly use protective gear.
Add to that DeSantis’ administration’s delayed efforts to shore up the state’s catastrophically broken unemployment website, and you have a recipe for public perception disaster fueled by a parade of avoidable errors.
During times of crisis, people need to know their government is working for them. DeSantis was, few would contend otherwise even if they didn’t agree with his brand of action. But his office’s communication on its wins, paired with a lack of transparency, means he’s not doing himself any favors when it comes to public perception.
I previously wrote that there was still time to get it right, specifically as it relates to the unemployment crisis, but that window might be quickly closing if the Governor and his team don’t come up with a winning strategy to combine optimism with realism, share the administration’s wins while also being proactive in the battles it must still fight and double down on getting that message out, DeSantis may very well be looking at an approval rating decline too far gone from which to recover.